The Case for a Creator: Astroturfing Science

The Case for a Creator, Chapter 4

Lee Strobel’s usual interview technique is to ask softball questions that are carefully phrased to make it as easy as possible for his interviewees to “refute” them. But credit where credit’s due – in the next section of chapter 4, he actually asks a good one. In talking to ID advocate Stephen Meyer, he brings up the evidence I discussed in my previous post:

“If the scientific evidence for theism is so compelling… then why don’t more scientists believe in God? A study in 1966 showed that sixty percent of scientists either disbelieve or were doubtful about God, and the percentage goes up if you look at the most elite scientists.” [p.84]

Then again, maybe I’m still being too easy on Strobel. After all, he only refers to a survey done in 1966, which allows Meyer the convenient out of claiming that “the best evidence for theism is very new” [p.84], and perhaps not all scientists are aware of it. However, he doesn’t explain what “new” evidence he has in mind. (The Big Bang, after all, has been well-accepted scientific truth for decades, and most intelligent-design arguments such as irreducible complexity are little different from arguments creationists have been making for a long time – since Paley, even!) In any case, more recent studies, such as the one I cited from 1998, show the same high rates of disbelief among leading scientists. Why hasn’t all this “new” evidence started changing people’s minds yet?

This leads us to the all-purpose creationist excuse: those nasty, mean materialists are oppressing us!

“Also, the materialistic worldview has exercised dominance on intellectual life in western culture for a hundred and fifty years. It has become the default worldview in science… Some people who dissent from it have experienced intense hostility and sometimes persecution.” [p.84]

Indeed, those poor, put-upon theists are under constant assault. Why, do you remember that time in the 70s when angry mobs of evolutionists went on the rampage, shooting at church buses and firebombing chapels, all because they were upset about Christianity being taught in Sunday school?

Of course you don’t, because it happened the other way around. As I mentioned at the time, Strobel carefully refrained from drawing any lessons from that unpleasant episode. It’s a shame he doesn’t hearken back to it here, because it would demonstrate an important point: if you’re going to make an honest accounting of who’s persecuting whom, creationists routinely resort to intimidation and even veiled threats, whereas the worst “persecution” experienced by creationists is that scientists are unconvinced by their ideas.

I also note that Meyer refrains from drawing any conclusions on why the “materialistic worldview” has become dominant in science. To admit the obvious – that scientific naturalism has become dominant because of its demonstrated success, whereas centuries of religious faith and church edict failed to make any measurable contribution to our understanding of the world – would perhaps undermine the story he wants to tell.

But I give him credit for audacity. In his next point, he attempts a rhetorical judo move. Strobel asks, “almost all the people… in the Intelligent Design movement are Christians. Doesn’t that undermine the legitimacy of their science?” [p.85] and Meyer responds by citing the data on atheism just mentioned by Strobel, arguing that it could be used to establish the very same conclusion:

“The vast majority of people who advocate Darwinism are naturalists or materialists, so you could play the motive-mongering game either way.” [p.85]

It almost sounds like a good point. But Meyer hasn’t mentioned one especially important piece of evidence which goes to establish motive in a very relevant way.

In 1999, a copy of a secret Discovery Institute paper, the “Wedge Document“, was leaked onto the internet. (The original document was stamped “Top Secret” and “Not for Distribution”). The Wedge Document was written by the founders of the intelligent-design movement and lays out their goal: “to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions”; “to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and hurnan beings are created by God.” This would lead to “spiritual renewal’ in society at large and “positive uptake in public opinion polls on issues such as sexuality, abortion and belief in God”. One scarcely need ask which positions on abortion and sexuality would be strengthened by this so-called positive uptake.

This is the important point. The problem isn’t that ID advocates are Christian – there are plenty of good scientists who are Christian, like Allan Sandage, and there are even plenty of good scientists who are Christian and accept evolution. The problem is that prominent ID advocates have admitted that their intent in founding the ID movement was ideological – they want to overthrow evolution so that more people would believe in God and adopt the specific political positions they favor. That is not a motive likely to lead to good science.

The ID advocates are doing the scientific equivalent of “astroturfing” – the sleazy technique used by wealthy corporations or special-interest lobbies that pay people to masquerade as regular concerned citizens. In the same way, ID advocates are religious proselytizers masquerading as disinterested scientists in order to advance the political aims they genuinely care about.

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • DamienSansBlog

    I like that the Wedge Document has a “five-year plan”. I thought these types hated Stalin!

    What, if anything, has the Discovery Institute said about “Wedge”?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    What, if anything, has the Discovery Institute said about “Wedge”?

    They belatedly (2005) admitted authorship, and tried to pass it off as a fund-raising letter, as if that somehow excused it. (Does the Discovery Institute lie to its funding sources? Is that morally acceptable?)
    THE “WEDGE DOCUMENT”: SO WHAT?

  • Wedge

    What, if anything, has the Discovery Institute said about “Wedge”?

    Nothing, I’m not even a blip on the radar…

    Oh, you were talking about something else. Carry on.

  • Alex, FCD

    The original document was stamped “Top Secret” and “Not for Distribution”

    1. I did not realize that anybody ever actually stamped “Top Secret” onto things.
    2. “Top Secret” and “Not for Distribution” are very strange things to stamp on a fund-raising letter

  • Reginald Selkirk
  • Ritchie

    Strobel asks, “almost all the people… in the Intelligent Design movement are Christians.

    That’s not been my experience. I’ve run into plenty of Muslims who use arguments for Intelligent Design and Allah which are identical to those used by Christians.

    It’s funny, but the implications of the fact that exactly the same arguments support the claims of people who believe in a completely different Intelligent Designer usually seems lost on them.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    That’s not been my experience. I’ve run into plenty of Muslims who use arguments for Intelligent Design

    Yep!

  • Scotlyn

    Anyone interested in an Unintelligent Design campaign. In my Wodge Document, I argue that the designer is obviously a slipshop malingerer, and was probably hung over when she was working on the platypus. My main thesis is that a CARING unintelligent designer would share a bit of whatever it is that she’s on with the rest of us. Clearly she’s both unintelligent and uncaring.

  • Scotlyn

    Whoops – she clearly ran out of question marks as well…

  • http://www.skepticaloccultism.com/ pendens proditor

    I’d like to get a coherent answer for once on what a legitimate and useful alternative to naturalism would be.

    That which exists and which we can come to knowledge about qualifies as naturalistic. If the things that Christians believe in both exist and are things we can come to knowledge about, then how are they excluded by naturalism? And if the things they believe in lack either of those qualities, then what business do they have making claims about those things?

    When your position is threatened by naturalism it seems to say much more about the frailty of your position than it does about naturalism.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Yup.

    I would also add this: The argument that “most scientists don’t believe in God because those nasty materialists are running the show” isn’t just naive and/or disingenuous. It’s also historically ignorant. Strobel’s thinking is circular: he’s basically saying, “Scientists are mostly materialists because materialism dominates intellectual life and scientific thinking”… without asking how it is that materialism came to dominate scientific thinking in the first place.

    For hundreds of years, most scientists did believe in God and spirituality. In fact, in the earlier days of formalized science and the scientific method, a fair amount of scientific inquiry focused on trying to identify and understand the nature of the spiritual world. It was only after decades and centuries of those investigations coming up short — again and again and again — and decades and centuries of physical cause- and- effect hypotheses proving useful and accurate, that scientists began to let go of religion.

    Strobel is putting the cart before the horse. He’s assuming that scientists have the same authoritarian, “We believe what we’re told/ what everybody else believes” approach to science that most believers have towards religion. He’s assuming that scientists are materialists because they’re afraid to buck the trend of materialism… without asking how it was that scientists came to buck the trend of religion and supernaturalism in the first place.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    That’s not been my experience. I’ve run into plenty of Muslims who use arguments for Intelligent Design and Allah which are identical to those used by Christians.

    I haven’t met many Muslim ID supporters, but then I’m in the U.S. so i haven’t met many Muslims. I did happen to meet a Hindu creationist once. Hindus have no interest in the Young Earth 6000 year thing, since the Hindu time-cycle (not time-line) is hundreds of billions of years. He was a college-educated person and his understanding of biology was abysmal. It was interesting.

  • Ubi Dubium

    Anyone interested in an Unintelligent Design campaign. In my Wodge Document, I argue that the designer is obviously a slipshop malingerer, and was probably hung over when she was working on the platypus. My main thesis is that a CARING unintelligent designer would share a bit of whatever it is that she’s on with the rest of us. Clearly she’s both unintelligent and uncaring.

    Ah, Scotlyn, it sounds like you are already almost a Pastafarian! Check out the Open Letter at venganza.org where our Prophet demands equal time for the teaching of the Flying Spaghetti Monster theory of unintelligent design. The FSM (pesto be upon him) is not very bright, usually drunk, and likes to mess with your experimental results. No religion is more consistent with actual empirical data!

    He’s assuming that scientists have the same authoritarian, “We believe what we’re told/ what everybody else believes” approach to science that most believers have towards religion.

    Thanks, Greta Christina. Yes, I see this kind of projection over and over again in arguments from True Believers. They see the everthing as black and white, they kowtow to authority, they believe that they’re told, so they argue assuming that everybody else does too. It makes it very frustrating to have any kind of discussion with them.

  • John Nernoff

    EM: …The ID advocates are doing the scientific equivalent of “astroturfing” – the sleazy technique used by wealthy corporations or special-interest lobbies that pay people to masquerade as regular concerned citizens.

    JN: You begin to wonder about all those suspiciously scripted “town hall” sickness-care,” er, I mean “health-care” meetings with vociferous actors.

  • Paul

    You begin to wonder about all those suspiciously scripted “town hall” sickness-care,” er, I mean “health-care” meetings with vociferous actors.

    Considering that FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity have been involved, it passed “wondering” some time ago. It’s obvious that normal people are being cynically lied to in order to derail progress, much like they did with the Tea Parties.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Yes, those meetings are about as honest as a meeting of a local Soviet in 1937 Moscow. Apparently, they’re using other tactics from that mindset:
    http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2009/08/11/2026745.aspx, or http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2009/08/13/politics/politicalhotsheet/entry5238512.shtml

    Sorry ’bout being off-topic.

  • Entomologista

    A lot of scientists compartmentalize their brains. So they apply empiricism in the lab, but not outside the lab. Case in point being when my professor passed out a bunch of those “How to Achieve Success and Influence People” type books, one of which was The Secret. So during our lab meeting I had to actually explain to my fellow scientists that quantum physics doesn’t work that way, and the book is bogus. Of course, I’m also the only atheist in my lab group. These people are perfectly good scientists. It’s just that a good number of scientists don’t apply the scientific method to all parts of their lives. And that’s how, in my opinion, a lot of scientists are able to remain religious.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    …and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions…

    I assume that science’s consonant is X.

    Entomologista “Of course, I’m also the only atheist in my lab group. These people are perfectly good scientists. It’s just that a good number of scientists don’t apply the scientific method to all parts of their lives. And that’s how, in my opinion, a lot of scientists are able to remain religious.”
    Ah ha! So you admit to stifling their minds with materialism!

  • Alex, FCD

    Ent:

    A lot of scientists compartmentalize their brains. So they apply empiricism in the lab, but not outside the lab. Case in point being when my professor passed out a bunch of those “How to Achieve Success and Influence People” type books, one of which was The Secret.

    I’ve had similar experiences. A lot of people in my lab read their horoscopes every day, although I’m starting to suspect that they do so purely to irritate me.


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